Starting from the Quandary Trailhead on Blue Lakes Road (Summit County 850) just north of Hoosier Pass off Highway 9 we headed up the snow covered road in the direction of Blue Lake Dam. No one is driving this road at this time of year except via snowmobile. Along the way we passed a scene literally frozen in time: an old boarded residence with a faded pink '59 Pontiac buried in snow next door.
After two miles we reached the dam. A dog barked from the other side of the lake and a couple snowmobiles buzzed noisily up and down the road. This was where we left all human and animal activity behind as here the course led northwest and up into the silent valley alongside the spectacular south face of Quandary Peak.
Gerry Roach's "Guide to Colorado 14er's" mentions an old mining road leading up from the dam. I couldn't locate it, so I forged up and picked my way through rocks and brush staying to the right of the drainage. Sam the wolfdog generally stayed low waiting to see where I would end up, invariably finding an easier route. After a mile or so scrambling we reached a high bowl. Fletcher came into view beyond the saddle descending from Quandary's west ridge. Finding some cairns, I followed them staying to the right above the central drainage. When I started up to gain Quandary's west ridge a couple hundred yards east of the saddle, Sam waited once more. Reaching the ridge I had difficult mixed snow and rock scrambling ahead to descend to the col--Sam watched my wasted effort (I was mainly avoiding possible avalanche conditions on the more direct route up the snow bowl.) Once Sam espied me way above on the col he scampered up the snowy slope in mere minutes.
Now we were well above 13,000 feet with Fletcher Mountain looming about half a mile away. Following about 300 yards across a mostly level snow pack, we reached the mountain proper and began climbing steeply up the slopes. To my right along the East Ridge the snow was piled high in dangerous looking cornices. Taking care not to move to close to the ridgeline we reached the summit after about half an hour in extremely pleasant conditions for winter--the sun brilliant and with just a whisper of wind. We enjoyed the views for a full twenty minutes before moving back down the mountain.
This time I kept a more direct course, right down the steep snow. Avalanche danger seemed slight, as the snow pack was very "tight". Keeping to the drainage we descended directly to the lake. From the lake's dam it was pleasant walking down the snow packed road. Though I had put glacier cream on my face I got some serious color on that bright sunlit day. Now five days later it is peeling.
Ascent time: 4 hours
Descent time: 2 hours
Jon Henderson adds:
Enjoyed your report. I've done Quandary before and enjoyed it very much. I have a question about Crestone Peak South Couloir, if you don't mind. Was the route hard to find, and two, how much exposure is involved. I don't much like 600 feet of air pulling at my heels! Also, what's the exposure difference between the Peak and the Needle? Thanks in advance! I love your reports and website. Keep up the good work! By the way, thanks for your advice on Kit Carson from last year. We made it to the summit with no problems!
Tony Bulik replies:
I'm not Steve, but I'll throw my 2-cents worth in anyway. I thought the route was kind of hard to find myself. In fact my partners and I never did actually find the route on the way up. The S. face of Crestone is pretty complicated and lined with couloirs. If you end up in the wrong one like we did, you probably won't like it very much and you'll end up somewhere along the traverse between Needle and Peak like us. The trick is to traverse to the left (west) for a bit to get into a couloir that takes you to the saddle between the east and west summits. We did not traverse left and ended up in a couloir that angled to the right (east) and topped out at about the one-half-way point between Needle and Peak. We did find the correct couloir on the way down (it would have been rather hard not to!) and we ended up exiting and traversing back to the east before the bottom. We did not experience much exposure on that part of the traverse. I think most of the exposure is nearer the Needle.